Opinion Who are the GOP’s future leaders? Let’s start with Mike Gallagher.

Rep. Mike Gallagher in 2021. (Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images)

Many years ago, New York Times columnist Russell Baker conjured up an oracle called the Great Mentioner, who prophesied the rise of future political stars by mentioning their names. Baker passed on his secret source to one of my mentors in newspaper column writing, William Safire, who channeled the Great Mentioner throughout his career, predicting the rise of presidents, vice presidents, national security officials, Cabinet secretaries.

Baker and Safire are no longer with us, but the Great Mentioner lives on. And with the Republican Party in flux and a presidential campaign set to begin, it’s a good time to see who appears in his crystal ball.

Who are the future leaders who can guide the Republican Party into the next era and shape conservative public policy, from national security to health to education to the economy? In a series of periodic interviews in the months ahead, I’ll carry on the tradition passed on by Baker and Safire and shine a light on some of the individuals I’d like to see take up that mantle of leadership.

And the oracle has revealed his first choice: Rep. Mike Gallagher (Wis.).

Gallagher is a rising conservative star who is making his mark in the national security field. Not long after this interview was conducted, he was named as the chairman of the next Congress’s House Select Committee on China. He serves on the House Armed Services Committee, where he’s the ranking Republican on the subcommittee for military personnel, as well as on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence.

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Before being elected to Congress, Gallagher served with the U.S. Marine Corps and completed two combat deployments in Iraq. He was also the lead Republican staffer for the Middle East and counterterrorism on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee as a staffer. He has a bachelor’s degree from Princeton, a master’s degree in security studies from Georgetown University, a second master’s in strategic intelligence from the National Intelligence University and a PhD in international relations from Georgetown — all of which mean he’s deeply overqualified for any national security position.

Use the audio player to hear our full discussion, but below are some of Gallagher’s most interesting answers to my questions.


Where did the GOP go wrong in the midterms?

Gallagher: I think what the message the American people are sending ... is that both parties are kind of on probation right now. They don’t want to hand either [party] the keys to the car, [and are] sort of forcing them to sit in the car and have it idle until they figure it out. But they want less crazy and more common sense. They want more discipline and less just reckless bomb-throwing.

And I think where you saw candidates that were disciplined, that were able to connect overall concerns, ephemeral concerns that we talk about here at the federal level, to just the day-to-day reality of people in the Midwest or wherever, they were successful, really in both parties.

And I think they want a forward-looking approach. If we had a problem on our side, I think it was the idea that relitigating the 2020 election was the most important issue in the 2022 midterm, when it clearly was not, right? They want more winning and less whining.


What’s the answer to calls to cut Ukraine aid?

Gallagher: I think it’s fair for people to say, “All right. If we’re spending this money on Ukraine, we want to know that it is well spent.” And I am fully committed to that effort in transparency. But for those of us who want to continue to support the Ukrainians and deliver a massive loss to the Russians ... we have to do a better job of tying the threat posed by Russia to the threat posed by the Chinese Communist Party. And it’s really teasing out the fact that for at least a decade, if not longer, these countries, who at times have interests that diverged and at times were outright hostile, at least in the present day, have locked arms to wage a new Cold War against the West, and are aided in that by the Iranian regime as well. And this idea that, “Well, we can be tough on China, but we have to strike some grand bargain with [Russian President Vladimir] Putin in Europe because our resources are limited.” I just think that reflects a naive view of the way the world is working right now.


Did covid-19 change U.S. attitudes toward China?

Gallagher: This is the one area where there is a lot of bipartisanship happening. There has yet to be a reckoning with the malfeasance of the Chinese Communist Party. I mean, whether you think it was a lab leak that caused the pandemic, which I subscribe to, I think the evidence favors that hypothesis. I’m not saying it was an intentional lab leak; I think the most likely explanation it was an accidental lab leak. Or whether you think it came from nature, from a wet market in Wuhan, you cannot deny the fact that the Chinese Communist Party covered it up. They did everything to block a [World Health Organization] investigation. It corrupted the WHO. And I think now what’s also becoming clear is that a lot of American taxpayer dollars were funding dangerous research at the Wuhan Institute of Virology.

So I think it has actually hardened a lot of views among Americans, particularly in the Midwest where I come from, with respect to China. And China, which may previously have seemed like a distant threat or purely an economic threat, now seems more like a clear and present danger, something that we just can’t ignore.


What’s China’s strategy against the West?

Gallagher: They won’t say it as such, but to destroy the capitalist system led by the United States and make way for the ultimate triumph of world socialism with, you know, Chinese characteristics. So part of it is getting us to destroy ourselves. And, so, think of it like this. Think of it like an assisted suicide. You supply the chemicals, fentanyl, coronavirus. You supply the economic downturn in the form of IP theft, pandemic shutdown, general economic warfare. And you supply the self-loathing in the form of ideological warfare that gets Americans to think that America is a neo-colonial racist country.

And then you isolate us from all of our friends. And you do that by supporting a war in Europe and preparing to do another one that completely destroys our existing alliance structure in the Indo-Pacific. You get us to destroy ourselves. Again, I think we’ve got a long way to go toward translating that into something that the American people really understand. But I just fundamentally believe that we’re in the early stages of a new Cold War. And it’s one that we are not winning, in part, because we just don’t feel like we deserve to win. We’re no longer convinced in bipartisan fashion that we’re the good guys.


Could the U.S. defend Taiwan today?

Gallagher: The short answer is no. But I believe we can get there within what’s called the Davidson window, which is basically the next five years. Former [U.S. Indo-Pacific Command] commander Phil Davidson, when he left, said this could happen in the next six years at the time. It’s now five years.

So I think this: If we have a, let’s say, a president come 2025 with a more serious foreign policy, or one that gets the urgency surrounding Taiwan, who empowers a secretary of defense and says, defending Taiwan, maintaining deterrence makes defending Taiwan our most urgent national security priority, I think we absolutely could do it.

And by the way, I don’t think it would cost that much money.

So how do you do it? And if you recognize that even if we had a coherent naval strategy, because if you look at the Indo-Pacific, one thing strikes you. There’s a lot of water there. So we need a bigger navy. Even in the best-case scenario, our fleet is not going to increase dramatically at the end of the decade. So what we need is a short-term hedging strategy.

You need more assistance directly to Taiwan itself, particularly long-range antiship missiles and smart mines. ... That’s something we could fix in the next two years. That’s step one.

Think of sort of three concentric rings. The first ring is Taiwan itself, helping Taiwan defend itself, which also means increasing rotations of National Guard and active-duty service members that go to Taiwan. Because as the previous Taiwan Strait crises illustrate — and there have been three prior to this — the thing that gives you your best chance of deterrence is actually American hard power.

Point two is then you can start to get creative, particularly in southern Japan and northern Philippines, you can have small teams of Marines armed with long-range fires that are basically charged with targeting and sinking every [People’s Liberation Army] navy and amphibious vessel that tries to cross the strait. And we should also sink them in port before they cross the strait.

And then, finally, and here’s where AUKUS [the partnership of Australia, Britain and the United States] comes in, you can leverage AUKUS to co-develop with the Aussies a longer-range intermediate missile system that you could put in the northern territories of Australia as well as Alaska that could target China. And by the way, they’re doing that to us right now with their most advanced missile systems.

The big opportunity we have here now is we’re no longer bound by something called the INF Treaty. And with all due respect to [President Ronald] Reagan, we love Reagan, we got rid of that in the Trump administration. It opens up enormous possibilities to … basically do to the PLA, what they’ve done to us, what they’ve done to us is they built a rocket force. ...

The final thing I’ll say is that’s sort of the strategy for the military strategy for Taiwan itself and the Indo-Pacific. But we need to be competing globally. They’re competing for influence everywhere. They show up in all these different international forums — things that we just don’t prioritize. And so we need to be making them think twice every single day.